Archive for May, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

Those cuckoos . . .

Cuckoo spittle

Above: Froth on a tansy plant in Bonnefont garden on a May morning.  In the Middle Ages, this foamy substance was believed to be the spittle of the cuckoo. The froth is secreted by insects known as spittle bugs.

The cuckoo-spittle, gowk’s-spittle, cuckoo’s-spittens, frog-spit, toad-spit, snake’s-spit, or wood-sear, of England and Scotland; Kukuk-speichel, and hexenspiechel (witch’s spit) of the Germans; gugger-speu of the Swiss; gred-spott (frog-spit) of the Swedes; giogespit of the Danes; trold-kiaringspye of the Norwegians; and crachat de coucou of the French . . .

—James Hardy, “Popular History of the Cuckoo.” In The Folk-lore record, Vol. 2. London: Nichols & Sons, 1879.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Orris and Iris

Iris species Iris germanica Iris pallida

Above, left and center: Blue-white orris and deep purple iris blooming simultaneously in Bonnefont Cloister garden. In the Middle Ages, the aromatic rhizomes of orris (Iris germanica var. florentina) were exploited for their fragrance. The purplish juice squeezed from the flowers of Iris germanica was mixed with alum to make a green used in manuscript illumination. Right: The beautiful and sweetly scented Iris pallida blooming in Trie Cloister garden.

And I must not pass you by, my iris, in silence.
Latin, that rich and eloquent tongue, has given you
The name Gladiola, made from its word for a sword.
For me at the start of summer you put forth
The beauty of your purple flower. . . .

. . . With your help too
The laundryman can stiffen his shining linen
And scent it sweetly.

—Excerpts trom the Hortulus of Walahfrid Strabo (ca. 808–849), translated by Raef Payne.

Due to the extraordinarily warm temperatures in early April, many plants bloomed as much as a month early this spring, and out of their usual sequence. Some plants that ordinarily bloom in succession bloomed simultaneously, including our beautiful bearded iris. Read more »